On May 17, 2005, the Palestine-Israel Journal held a round-table discussion on Civil Society at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem. The participants were Prof. Munther Dajani, the Political Science and Diplomatic Studies department and director of the Sartawi Center for the Advancement of Peace and Democracy, al-Quds University; Terry Boullatta, Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee and head of the board of the Women's Study Center in the East Jerusalem Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy; Prof. Benjamin Gidron, School of Management and director of the Israeli Center for Third Sector Research, Ben-Gurion University; and Rolly Rosen, organizational consultant for Shatil, the New Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations in Israel. The moderators were: Prof. Yoav Peled, Political Science Department of Tel Aviv University, and Dr. Nadia Nasser-Najjab, consultant, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Yoav Peled: Good afternoon, welcome to everyone and thank you for participating. Our first question relates to the concept of civil society itself. The concept is a fairly contested one.
One notion defines civil society as the entire social sphere that is not a state, i.e., everything that is not included in the concept of the state is defined as civil society. In this definition, what is thought of as civil society is primarily the market. This is the traditional liberal definition.
The other definition says that civil society is a social sphere that is autonomous of both the state and the market. In other words, this is the sphere that sometimes is referred to as the third sector - third because it is not the state and not the market. Being public, it is different from the market. Being voluntary, it is different from the state, and is conducted mostly by voluntary associations that work to promote all kinds of public causes on a voluntary basis.
Sometimes civil society is used to describe these sectors of society and sometimes to describe the whole society where such a sector exists. Let's try to address this issue of the definition of civil society that everybody believes should guide our discussion here.

Munther Dajani: In my view, civil society is people taking things into their own hands. The best example is the Palestinian case. In the absence of an authority and with the presence of occupation, civil society was able to move and take things into their own hands, and became very effective in providing much-needed services to Palestinian public society. They were able to lobby overseas with the international community, to raise money, and to solve many of the immediate problems for Palestinian people at the grass-roots level.
This is the best example of a very active and successful civil society movement that was able to replace or fill the vacuum of an authority. The occupation was not interested in providing much-needed public services in rural areas, and the Palestinian people took things into their own hands and were able to provide its community with the basic needs.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Addressing the daily needs of the people. So there are differences in terms of responsibilities between civil society in a state and in an occupied territory.

Munther Dajani: In a state it takes a traditional role that everybody agrees on.

Benjamin Gidron: There are many ways of looking at civil society, even within states.

Munther Dajani: Yes, but there are parameters that you expect them to work within. In the case of Palestine, they broke all the parameters within which they were supposed to be working.

Yoav Peled: Would you say that this case is a situation where there is no state, and therefore civil society takes on responsibilities, including those that are traditionally conducted by the state? Or another way of looking at it is to say that there is a state, the state is the Israeli occupation, and then civil society works against the state, not instead of the state.

Munther Dajani: No. Civil society did not work against the state by any means. They came to take over the responsibilities of the state that the state was not delivering to the people. There is a difference. Our civil society was not used as a resistance movement to rid us of occupation. All through the 1970s and 1980s, it took on the role of the government. It substituted for the government and provided services to the people.

Benjamin Gidron: I think people today think about civil society as mostly the organizational life outside of the state and the market, but not exclusively the organizational life or associational life as it also includes activities by individuals that are doing things voluntarily.
Abie Nathan (who ran the Voice of Peace pirate radio station in the 1970s and 1980s - ed.) is an example of somebody who had no organization but took a bold step out of any context when he flew a plane to Egypt in the pursuit of peace. So it is not just organizations. However, as you rightfully pointed out, the bulk of civil society is organizational.
In some areas it replaces state services even within states. It initiates new services, new ideas and new ventures. It also opposes the state where the policy is inadequate or inappropriate. In addition, it also deals with people's wants, wills and wishes, such as the entire area of hobbies and sports and recreation.
Civil society borders both on the market and the government. Its activities mean a lot in terms of politics, but also in terms of economics and the market. Many activities start as voluntary activities, but then become commercialized. So this sphere is not a fixed one. It is always moving. People sometimes equate it to an amoeba.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: I think it is very much related to what Munther was just talking about. In the beginning, Palestinian society was based on a voluntary civil society. It was like a social movement. Then it was transformed into organizations to serve the people and to resist occupation.

Rolly Rosen: When we in Shatil speak about civil society, our working definition is mostly about social-change organizations. This is a much narrower definition than the one you, Yoav, were suggesting. In the book published by Professor Gidron's Center for Third Sector Research, Ben-Gurion University, you define civil society as third-sector or non-profit organizations which are not getting money from the government. That excludes organizations which do a lot of service-provision and get money from the government. Usually, these are the social-change organizations. You can also take the definition which says civil society has to challenge the government or the common, traditional, accepted norms. These are the organizations we usually work with.

Terry Boullatta: As I understand, there are three sectors here. We have the government, the people and, in the middle, civil society whose job supposedly is to monitor government efficiency in servicing the people, subsidizing when the government is not doing a good job, and standing up when the government is doing a bad job.

Rolly Rosen: There is also the market.

Benjamin Gidron: People are the basis of the society.

Terry Boullatta: Still, when it comes to politics, you have the people's voice electing the government. Then you have the people who monitor civil society and who monitor those elected for efficiency, transparency, and development procedures.
Civil society has lots of things to monitor and to subsidize when the government is failing. As in the Palestinian case - in the absence of a state - civil society has to cover service delivery and has to stand up when the authority or government is not doing what it is supposed to do or what it has been elected to do.

Munther Dajani: In political science, it is not accepted that civil society monitors because a government is supposed to be monitored by the people during an election, by the people's participation in electing and choosing the right candidates. Civil society cannot do that because it would be trespassing into a governmental area. Any democratic government has to have checks and balances within itself.

Terry Boullatta: That's according to the book, but the norms are that civil society is the one that interferes, monitors and makes scandals whenever there is no transparency. They have an important role to play. There are lots of international organizations - such as Amnesty International - for whom monitoring is an important role.

Benjamin Gidron: One of the major characteristics of civil society is its diversity and pluralism. Each civil society is comprised of a whole variety of organizations and activities.
Some of these organizations deal with monitoring government. But I would agree that this is not the role of the entire civil society.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: But some do as a specialty. I think we have already made a smooth transition to our second question - the relationship between state and civil society.

Munther Dajani: It depends on where. In the United States, in England, in other developed nations, the relationship between these institutions are well organized and well defined.
When we speak about pluralism, we are talking about everybody's right to voice his/her concern regarding any particular issue, whether it's a neighborhood watch or a neighborhood children's park or whatever, up to monitoring the government. When living in a developed country, I know I have the right to write my congressman or representative and voice my case and be effective in such a way that I might be able to change his mind.
In other countries, in third-world countries, this role is not present. On the contrary, look what is happening in Egypt. Look at what happened in Algeria. The Palestinian case is even more complicated and unique because civil society was replacing the government and the Palestinian Authority (PA), and when the PA came, there was a lot of friction between the government and civil society organizations. There was a problem of mandate. What is happening on the ground now? Arab leaders think they cannot go wrong. When civil society takes matters into its own hands, they use the military. Civil society is not allowed to do what is taken for granted in the first world.
This is a very serious problem because there are NGOs. Yet these NGOs in third-world countries are not only regulated by the government, but are created by the government. So civil society starts to reflect what the government wants rather than what the society wants, and when they don't, they are in trouble.

Yoav Peled: Are you saying democracy is really a precondition for the existence and activity and freedom of civil society?

unther Dajani: Definitely. Not democracy alone, but democracy and pluralism - and a pluralistic society not meaning many political parties, but rather that any civil organization is able to reach and influence the decision-makers.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: I disagree that democracy is a precondition. Sometimes civil society is a precondition for democracy.

Munther Dajani: But in a dictatorship, civil society will be crushed. We have seen that again and again. We saw it in Chile and Nicaragua and many other South American governments, as well as in the Arab world.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: If we agree that social movements are part of civil society…

Munther Dajani: Of course…

Terry Boullatta: It's like the chicken and the egg. One of civil society's goals is implementing and guaranteeing democracy. It cannot wait for democracy as a precondition.
Look at the Palestinian case. Civil society worked for the promotion of democracy before and after the arrival of the PA, so it is not a precondition. On the contrary, it is one of its goals, along with developing tools in order to achieve that goal.

Benjamin Gidron: I think civil society is time- and geography-dependent. In Poland, in the 1970s and 1980s, during a totalitarian regime, it was civil society that broke the regime down and created the famous velvet revolution.
In some countries, in totalitarian regimes, the role of civil society is, first of all, to create a system where the government recognizes that sphere that Yoav was talking about - that sphere of voluntary organizations where people can organize, can voice their concerns, their wishes and wills, etc. In totalitarian regimes, such a sphere does not exist because the state takes care of everything.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Iran is a good example.

Benjamin Gidron: Yes. So it depends on time and geography. Once there is a democracy, the roles change. Then you have a much more open arena for more activities, more interventions.

Rolly Rosen: What you are saying here raises an interesting question of how much civil society is a creation that comes from within society and answers its needs for radical criticism. It is an invention of the Western world …

Terry Boullatta: An imposed one.

Rolly Rosen: It is the way Western society has found to interfere in what is happening in the third world. Rather than giving money to governments, it now gives to NGOs for different reasons, thinking they are more efficient and maybe less corrupt. Some civil societies in third-world countries are kind of imposed, or an invention that doesn't really come up from within. I think, in both Palestine and Israel - especially when we speak about social-change organizations - most are funded by outside sources.
This raises many questions about what it means to the society and how it affects us, whether civil society is really coming from the bottom up and how much it actually expresses authentic needs and ideas in the society.

Munther Dajani: If there is a dictatorship, then civil society changes its role to resistance to that dictatorship in order to disseminate democracy. That brings it into confrontation with the political system. The role of civil society becomes breaking out of the parameters of the dictatorship or the authoritarian system. We saw that under Augusto Pinochet. Civil society was being broken down in Chile and people were fighting against him, although he was backed by the big powers, especially the U.S.A. Yet civil society took upon itself the role of fighting the system. That right did not come from within the system. It came from the right of the Chilean people to defend their own human rights, human dignity, equality, and all the rights that people yearn for.
There is a difference between somebody who was born in a democratic system and feels these are granted to him by the Constitution. It is a different mentality.

Yoav Peled: I would like to move on now to the current situation in Israel where people are fighting intensely against the planned withdrawal from Gaza and are engaging in all kinds of things which they claim are legitimate civil society activities.
They are criticizing the government as being authoritarian. They claim they are fighting for their right to protest and resist in a legitimate way. For instance, yesterday they blocked major highways all over the country saying, This is our way of protesting. The rhetoric is definitely the rhetoric of civil society. They say they are doing exactly what you said civil society sometimes can and should do - that is, fight an authoritarian government for the human and political rights of the population.
Is this an example of civil society activity and, in that sense, legitimate? Or does this go beyond the boundaries of legitimate civil society activity? Or maybe it is not part of civil society at all.

Rolly Rosen: I think the answer is yes and no. According to my definition of civil society, their actions are on the verge of being illegal, but they are legitimate. There is a very thin line. Where is violence legitimate?
I think the question is more about the values that guide them. What is problematic for me is that they are now using the language of civil society, democracy and human rights with regard to the settlers, but are ignoring the fact that, since the outset, the entire settlement movement was not a democratic one. And more than that, morally and fundamentally, it ignores the rights of the Palestinians. There is a basic contradiction in that they are using the language and tools of a democratic civil society, but the values they want to protect are not universal human rights.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Exactly. How can we say that values are good or bad? I think we have to refer to international law. When civil society moves to bring down an authoritarian regime, it is because they can cite human rights stipulated in international law. So referring to international law, the settlers are illegal in the first place, at least from a Palestinian perspective.

Munther Dajani: This is exactly the point. There is a contradiction between being democratic and being an occupier. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
Settlers are using civil society tools to fight the Israeli system. They are using legal means and they are within their boundaries, but the whole thing is based on something wrong - occupation. They are trying to legitimize occupation by using civil society tools to legitimize their actions.

Benjamin Gidron: I think civil society is composed of groups and people that not all of us like. They are diverse. Some of them we like and some we don't. I agree that they are using legal or legitimate means that verge on being illegal, and they are using the language of civil society. But their value system contradicts anything that civil society and democracy believes in.
If each group moves in the direction it thinks is important and there is no overarching system, there is simply anarchy. Civil society needs government to exist. It cannot replace government. What these people are trying to do is to take on the role of government and impose their will, even after it was voted down in the Knesset.

Munther Dajani: For me, anarchy is not necessarily a bad thing. It means everybody knowing their responsibility to such a degree of perfection that they don't need regulation.

Benjamin Gidron: Where have you seen a system like that lately? Somebody has to make the rules. Who decides on those responsibilities?

Yoav Peled: Maybe we should say a few words about the role of Israeli civil society in opposing the occupation over the years.

Rolly Rosen: It has not been very successful.

Yoav Peled: But the opposition is still there.

Rolly Rosen: I think a certain group within civil society has been trying to do many things in different ways, and the forms have evolved over the years from just protesting to monitoring and so on. Over the past 20 years many more organizations have come into existence. They are much more professional and they are doing very varied work - media, lobbying, monitoring, and international lobbying. There has been diversification and professionalization. But the occupation is still there, so in the bottom line, we have not succeeded.

Munther Dajani: It has shrunk tremendously.

Yoav Peled: In the last four years, of course.

Terry Boullatta: In line with the shrinking of the political peace movement.

Rolly Rosen: In reaction to the situation.

Benjamin Gidron: The issue of Israeli-Palestinian relationship and the role of civil society in promoting cordial or neighborly relationship goes back a long way. My colleague, Tamar Hermann, would tell you that groups of this nature existed in the 1950s and 1960s, long before the occupation - Brit Shalom in the 1930s, New Outlook in the 1950s and 1960s, etc.
So there was always a kernel of activities, of people, groups, organizations, that took this issue and tried to move it along. Of course, since 1967, the issue has been much more in the forefront and more organizations became active around it. I think, after the Oslo agreement, there was really a surge of such organizations.

Rolly Rosen: People-to-people activities.

Benjamin Gidron: I think it goes hand in hand with the political situation. It's not divorced from what happens on the ground. It is influenced and it influences those activities.
In a study we did comparing Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland and South Africa peace organizations in the mid-1990s, we found that the most important role of civil society in all those cases was to bring to the fore ideas about possible cordial and peaceful relationships long before the politicians signed any documents.
It is really preparing public opinion, preparing the people for a different type of activity, a different type of relationship than the military and antagonistic one. That was the major role of civil society organizations in this area prior to the Oslo agreement. Once the agreement was signed, there were many activities to try to bring stability  

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: And cooperation…

Munther Dajani: Confidence-building measures…

Benjamin Gidron: And cooperation, and to create a new reality. I think this is the strength of civil society. Civil society does not assume long-term contracts for many centuries. It tries to build bridges, to forge beginnings, to initiate new ideas. This is where civil society is strong. It does not replace politicians who have to sign the agreements, or business-people who have to establish commercial relationships. It creates collaborative relationships between societies.

Terry Boullatta: I object a bit, especially to your analysis after Oslo. One of the problems we face is that civil society - not just in Israel, but also in Palestine, and especially those civil societies presented as the peace movement - declined after the signing of the Oslo agreement.
The view was now we have the perfect time and the perfect government on both sides to take the peace issue forward. Many of the leaders of civil society competed to get into the government and lead the peace process from within. My belief is that many of the peace movement leaders went into the government thinking that would be an extra step forward instead of just pushing from the outside. That emptied the field of civil society that must always monitor and back up the government that is moving towards peace, and that gap benefited the right wing on both sides, especially with the turning point of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, because they were well prepared.
In Palestine, many civil society representatives joined the PA and became ministers. There was a major gap in the role of civil society, and that opened the way for diverting attention from peace, from which we have been suffering ever since. Even to people-to-people. What was it? It was more or less directed by government representatives, not by civil society.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Absolutely.

Benjamin Gidron: Yes.

Terry Boullatta: So let's stop bragging about civil society and accept our commitment to continue as leaders in civil society working for peace. Thinking we had the best governments to ever have signed the Oslo agreement opened the gap for the right wing on both sides.

Munther Dajani: Israeli society is rooted deeply in the military mindset. So when there is dissent, it's unacceptable. People go back to the norm, which is what the government wants. That's where the shrinkage in the peace movement came from.

Terry Boullatta: After Oslo, the withdrawal from Lebanon was anti-militarization. Civil society was strong enough to influence the militarization of the Israeli mentality and to bring Israel out of South Lebanon, but it withdrew from the issue of Palestine, thinking the government had already signed a peace agreement.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: You are right that the signing of Oslo caused some civil society to retreat a bit and work on other issues. However, there is the problem of public opinion in the media. During the second intifada, Israeli public opinion - except for a few - thought that Palestinians don't want peace, so everything Israelis do from there on is legitimized. The few remaining organizations in the Israeli movement could not fight this attitude because of the conformity among Israelis.
People-to-people was a product of Oslo, but it ignored the social and political context. Funding agencies assumed that peace was there, and so they started to support projects in that direction. But I heard from Israeli movements fighting against the occupation that donors refused to give them any funds for their action-based activities to fight the occupation.

Yoav Peled: Because they said peace is already here…

Terry Boullatta: And now they have to back Sharon in his great withdrawal plan. The same mistake is being repeated. Most donors - American and European - want to subsidize Sharon's "heroic withdrawal" from Gaza. Palestinian NGOs and civil society are facing the same problems because funders would like to keep the Abu Mazen government. They think it's the best that can be achieved as of now. But civil society is being neglected in both societies for different reasons, only one of which is outside Western interference.

Benjamin Gidron: If you take money from Western powers, you cannot expect them not to try to promote their interests when they give their money.

Terry Boullatta: We also have to promote our interests. We are the ones living here. That's the strength I would always promote: how we Palestinians and Israelis, especially those working in the peace movement, should promote joint planning, not just activities, in order to present one position to the Western donors at the end of the day.
Donor agencies have their political agenda which, often goes against the wishes of the ordinary people and the outcome of the peace process.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: International donors have now started to think about this and move in that direction.

Yoav Peled: What direction?

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Understanding that they cannot ignore the political and social contexts. For example, the Canadians now realize that with the cooperation issue, people-to-people activities, a problem existed in terms of equality and of the professionalism of the Palestinian NGOs compared to the Israeli. They have now started a networking for peace to empower Palestinian organizations. So the donors are now questioning and evaluating. In the EU, they have evaluated their past experience. The Canadians already have a program. The Norwegians also have made an evaluation.

Rolly Rosen: What you are saying is something that was discussed with the donors almost eight years ago. It's not new.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: I don't think they ever listened before.

Munther Dajani: It started in Helsinki when we criticized them. They were shocked because they were thinking they were doing this to appease us and that things were going well.
There is a very serious problem among the donors. In the final analysis, they want to appease the Israeli government.

Rolly Rosen: The Israeli government would not agree with you about that.

Munther Dajani: Let me explain. The donors are meticulous organizations, but they do have their political agendas that sometimes depend on their definition of priorities. And their definition of priorities is to keep their relations with Israel on a very high level.
Donors know that if they get on the wrong side of the Israeli government, a lot of problems can arise, and then they would feel the heat of the U.S.A. They are also sensitive to the political issues on the ground. I can give you many examples where the donors withdrew from anything that Israel objected to, even Israeli-Palestinian projects.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: It's not a secret. People-to-people was an Israeli donor agenda. It was in the Israelis' interest. Of course, the donors probably did not intend it that way.

Terry Boullatta: They never considered the level of professionalism.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: They never considered the voices among Palestinians saying that this set-up was not working. They never listened. An example is the criteria for a proposal. First of all, it should include an Israeli partner. Second, it should say something about cooperation and that, at the end of the project, the Palestinian and Israeli participants will have been led to love each other. Then you get the funds.
When we used to recruit Palestinians for such projects, we would tell them that the project was to change Israeli public opinion, to convince them the occupation still existed. But on paper, that was not the objective.

Benjamin Gidron: You had to write something else.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: We had to write something else to get the money.

Yoav Peled: Do you notice any difference in all of these things after September 11?

Munther Dajani: There are a lot of differences. There has been a complete re-evaluation of the definitions, not only of civil society, but of major groups of civil society that were operating in the Arab world. All of a sudden, the word Islam became a bad word, and working with Islamic groups took on negative connotations. NGO groups working on the ground started to be sensitized to that.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Is there a difference with Israelis?

Munther Dajani: Of course, because of the definition of terrorism. Suddenly all Palestinians are being defined by Sharon as terrorists.

Benjamin Gidron: I would like to put this issue of funding in a broader context. Since the 1990s, the big high-tech revolution, there has been a tremendous growth in funding and philanthropy by the rich West in the third world. There are new foundations. The existing foundations are richer and are giving more money. This brings out all kinds of issues of intervention, of people who have the resources in countries where they think they know what's best for them. So this is not just happening here. It's an international issue and an international problem.
I think what needs to be done is to have a new type of relationship between the funders and the grantees. There needs to be a new type of dialogue where the funders are not sitting up there and dictating what they think should take place. The funders have the right to say: "These are the values we want to promote," but the grantees have the right and obligation to tell them: "This is possible only in such and such a way or this is not possible, and we have other values as well that we would like to promote."
There needs to be a new kind of dialogue. Because of the disparities between the two societies, it is a legitimate claim for Palestinian civil society to have projects separate from Israeli projects. There is no need for everything to be done together.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: This is also related to the state-civil society relationship. The Palestinians tried to regulate the funding issue among Palestinians. There was a ministry called the Ministry of NGOs which attempted - I was a member of a follow-up committee at the ministry - to at least deal with the issue of registration of the organizations.
But to regulate this relationship of civil society and donors through the state, I think the donors should have listened to influential figures who were saying that this was dangerous, that there was no kind of control, and that things were going wrong. The projects never achieved their set goals. So I think the donors are obliged to listen to some people in the field, even if they were not officials, people who were involved in so many projects and who raised their voices saying this is what we see on the ground. But I think they have started to listen now.

Munther Dajani: In all honesty, it was disastrous to create an NGO ministry. It's a contradiction in terms.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: That's what I'm saying. It didn't work.

Munther Dajani: There is no function for an NGO ministry. Some NGOs are not credible. They operate under false pretenses; they have visiting cards and mobile phones. They register as Palestinian NGOs; they take $2,000 out of $100,000, and they are happy. These organizations were created by some Israeli NGOs. And there are prominent Palestinians who have accepted playing that role, and this is the problem.
What is needed to regulate them is the auditing of the Ministry of Finance and a section in the Ministry of the Interior. There was an issue about whether to register in Israel or Palestine.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: That's for Jerusalem…

Munther Dajani: Of course. Even in Ramallah, you can register in Jerusalem if you have a Jerusalem ID and an NGO in Ramallah. But you can also, as a Jerusalemite, register in Ramallah to escape the monitoring of the Israeli government. It works both ways.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: There is a problem with registration among Palestinians, due to the fact that there is the PA and there is still occupation. Things are not regulated. The problem is also that, because of the occupation, the people in charge cannot function. Even the police cannot regulate traffic. We cannot regulate our state-related issues because of the occupation. People can easily not listen if the basic things of daily life are not there. How can they trust the government or trust an authority? There is a big mess.

Terry Boullatta: It's not because the occupation interferes on a daily basis. The occupation has undermined the Authority to the level that a policeman cannot even issue a ticket or he can be beaten.
The problem is the occupation, but a different aspect of it. Abu Mazen can promote peace and speak out against missiles in Gaza, and the next day Sharon is challenging Abu Mazen again and again. That's how the occupation is affecting our Authority and intervening in daily life. Imagine now with Hamas. We in civil society are afraid of the interference of Hamas in the coming elections because, in the social agenda, it's a win-win situation for them, not for us.
We began calling for secularization long ago, including in the Declaration of Independence. If Hamas representatives will be, let's say, at most a third of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) that means the social agenda might be different. We are very afraid of that.
And while we are talking and working hard to undermine the power of Hamas, from the local council elections to representation in trade unions, to the preparation for greater losses for Hamas in the upcoming elections for the PLC, and then we wake up to [Israeli Foreign Minister] Silvan Shalom threatening if Hamas wins…
This is total intervention into Palestinian issues, and, in a way, they are empowering Hamas after all we're doing, and they are affecting the role of civil society.

Benjamin Gidron: In Israel we do not have a Minister of NGOs, but we do have a Registrar of Amutot. The former registrar imposed a new regulation called the Appropriate Management Regulation. In other words, if an organization was not appropriately managed according to his standards, he could withdraw the benefits or the registration even of a non-profit organization. The former one used this kind of power that he was given by the government law mostly against Arab NGOs.

Terry Boullatta: Especially in Jerusalem.

Benjamin Gidron: For political reasons. The current one is a totally different person, and I think he's much fairer and is not using his power inappropriately.

Terry Boullatta: In East Jerusalem, civil society is diminishing because of that registrar.

Benjamin Gidron: I know the implications of his activities in some of the organizations in the Galilee. I know they have lost a lot of activity.

Munther Dajani: And funds.

Rolly Rosen: There is another way in which the government tries to control what is happening with the NGOs, which goes back to the outside funding, and I think it makes the governments of both sides very nervous.
In your case [Palestinians], it was the NGO ministry. In Israel, the right wing did not feel the donors were trying to appease the Israeli government; to the contrary, they felt the donors were supporting Palestinian organizations, and that only leftist organizations, such as Peace Now and B'Tselem and all the human-rights organizations, were getting funding from abroad. They tried to pass a law saying that even if you want to submit a proposal to an outside source, you would have to get a permit from the government. They said that the EU and other governments were interfering in Israeli internal politics, so the government should control who gets the money. There was a lot of pressure; Shatil did a lot of lobbying and the other NGOs fought against it. And the law did not pass.
The fact is that, since the 1980s, and especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall, agencies that would previously have given money to governments are now giving it to civil society organizations. That makes governments very uneasy because they are losing control over a lot of money meant for development. I'm not sure it's better to give money to the government, but this creates a lot of friction between the government and NGOs.

Terry Boullatta: Perhaps we should go back to the Palestine-Israel civil society and see how the international agenda is affecting us positively or negatively.
The more you empower the Israeli government - this government with its Gaza redeployment plan, while buying time to build more settlements and the separation wall - at the end of the day, you are really undermining the possibility for a real peace process.
I think we should be able to cooperate more with Israeli civil society - mainly those who are openly promoting a two-state solution and the peace movement - especially in joint planning, and jointly raising our voices to those international donors about what needs to be funded. This will strengthen the voice of peace. It is one of the obligations - not just moral, but political - that we have in our respective societies.

Yoav Peled: Right now there is a very unfortunate kind of process occurring. There is very strong pressure on the part of many Palestinians to boycott Israeli universities. Our universities are not only part of civil society, but also probably the most peace-oriented sector of our society, even if there is a lot to be criticized there.
As Baruch Kimmerling has pointed out in the context of the debate over the boycott, in the current climate of opinion in Israel, the universities remain almost the last bastion of free thought and free speech. Most of the humanistic and dissident voices in Israel come from the universities, or are supported by their students and faculty members.

Munther Dajani: Point of correction. We didn't have anything to do with that. It's Israeli academics such as Ilan Pappe.

Terry Boullatta: Munther, you have to understand that the British are being selective. They are not calling for a boycott against all Israeli academics and universities. They have been smart enough this time to select specific universities, especially Bar-Ilan which is opening a branch in a major illegal settlement.

Yoav Peled: They are actually withdrawing from that.

Terry Boullatta: Maybe that British threat or decision allowed this part of Israeli civil society to retreat from such a major mistake.

Yoav Peled: I am not talking about the British. I am talking about many Palestinian groups. Two people especially, Omar Barghouti and Lisa Taraki, who teach at Bir Zeit University, are promoting a total boycott.

Terry Boullatta: I talked to Lisa. She held a press release and declared: "We are going to boycott Israeli academics or institutions that are feeding the occupation, like Bar-Ilan opening a branch in an illegal settlement."

Yoav Peled: That's not the way I understood it. I participate in a group of Palestinian and Israeli academics, and there has been a very fierce debate within that group. Most of the Palestinian participants were angry at those Israelis in the group who did not support the boycott, a total boycott, not the specific British boycott. You are talking about the need to cooperate, but you cannot ask people to boycott us and then tell us we should cooperate.

Munther Dajani:Exactly. This is a very important issue. If you go for cooperation for peace, take a stand and go for cooperation for peace. You cannot want a little bit of cooperation here but not there because you are against occupation.

Rolly Rosen: You can choose your partners.

Yoav Peled: What are you saying?

Munther Dajani: I am saying we should keep politics out of academia.

Terry Boullatta: You cannot.

Munther Dajani: Yes, you can. Let me explain. In academia you are searching for the truth, and the truth lies in research and scientific cooperation between all parties - not two ethnic groups, not three ethnic groups, all of humanity. Academia is for the overall improvement of societies as a whole. You cannot mix a specific case pertaining to the occupation with the overall benefit of Palestinian society.
It is no secret that the Palestinians are the ones who benefit from cooperation because one, Israelis are much more advanced, and two, for most of the research that is done, they have all the equipment. I could take you to their universities and then to al-Quds University.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: This is exactly the point, why they have all the equipment. No cooperation before separation.

Munther Dajani: We put this in the proposals - since you have the equipment and we don't, in order to achieve parity, we should get the equipment.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Change the status quo.

Munther Dajani: The best way to change the status quo is to end the occupation, period. We don't disagree on that. But what we should agree on is what to do in the meantime. We want to pressure Israelis into ending the occupation. But if you boycott them, how can you open a dialogue to convince them?

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: We don't want to boycott talking to Israelis and conducting dialogues. But why should we cooperate on academic research when there is no equality at all, and it is due to the occupation?

Yoav Peled: Is there cooperation right now?

Munther Dajani: By definition, cooperation is opening a dialogue in order to let the others know your needs, and they would share their concerns with us. Here you are mixing oranges and squash, and they really don't mix.
Occupation is something we should all fight against. Most Israeli academic institutions are with us and have released statements calling for an end to occupation. Why boycott them and prompt them to work against us when now they are working with us? This is the irony of the situation.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: It's conditional that they have to cooperate in research. It's a matter of principle if they are against occupation.

Benjamin Gidron: Occupation is bad because it's bad for Israel.

Munther Dajani: None of us convinced them that occupation is bad. They saw it for themselves.

Terry Boullatta: Israeli academics are promoting the idea of a Palestinian demographic bomb. That's why they are backing the government and reinforcing the occupation. They selected the University of Haifa because of Prof. Arnon Sofer (who deals with the demographic question - ed). Academia is not innocent at the end of the day. Let's not be naive about it.

Munther Dajani: They chose Bar-Ilan and Haifa because there is a serious problem in Haifa University where the government has intervened in an academic project. It's about the massacre that apparently took place at Tantura in 1948. This is the issue about Haifa University, and the president of the university took a political stand. They were following a government directive.
But when the president of Ben-Gurion University got a letter telling him to fire a certain professor, he told them: "We don't work for you. We work for the Israeli society." That's why Ben-Gurion University is not being boycotted and will not be boycotted.

Terry Boullatta: We don't want to boycott all of Israel or all academia, but academia is not totally innocent with regard to politics. You should select whom you talk to and what you are promoting.
After all these years of dialogue, since Oslo and even before Oslo, what happened is that Palestinian funds coming through Israelis have enforced the occupation. We have to be selective about boycotts, knowing that in South Africa, for example, nothing helped until international pressure was brought to bear on the government of the white minority.

Munther Dajani: We are mixing two things. Fifteen years ago, the Palestine Higher Council of Education took a decision to boycott all Israeli universities unless Palestinians had access to Israeli universities and were treated on a basis of parity.
What Omar and Lisa are doing is different. There are people now who have cooperated and continue to cooperate with Israel, but they have selected two institutions with whom not to cooperate because of their actions on the ground. So we should differentiate between the Higher Council ruling which is still in effect, and between academics that support cooperation, but are taking a stand against a specific institution.

Yoav Peled: They are taking a stand against all Israeli universities. I was part of this whole discussion. They got very mad at me for saying I am opposed to it. The British applied it to two universities. But they asked for a total boycott.

Munther Dajani: I'm aware of all these problems because I am the coordinator of the Rectors Conference between Israelis and Palestinians. The British did not take this from Lisa. Ilan Pappe has been working on the British for the last two years. This is a personal success of his group. That does not affect Ben-Gurion's position or the Hebrew University's position.

Benjamin Gidron: The idea that the resources that Israeli universities receive are only for projects where there is cooperation with Palestinians and this is how occupation is strengthened is fallacious. Most Israeli researchers who get funding from abroad are not engaged in projects with Palestinians. Most research activity in Israel is totally unrelated and definitely not dependent on cooperation with Palestinians. The resources that some of us get for cooperation projects are very few percentage-wise. So mixing those issues creates a wrong impression.
Secondly, it is very offensive to me, as an Israeli academic, when people begin to compare our academics and universities to the situation in South Africa and that boycott. In South Africa, the whole regime was illegitimate. When you make such a comparison, it is with something that is totally illegitimate. If there is recognition of Israel, then there cannot be a comparison with South Africa. If there is an institution or an enterprise that misbehaves, then, of course, they need to be singled out.

Terry Boullatta: Like Bar-Ilan.

Benjamin Gidron: It's a slippery slope. All of a sudden, you're saying the only way to end occupation is like South Africa. We boycotted them and then the whole system collapsed.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: It's to end occupation.

Terry Boullatta: Why don't you ask us and ask the world to stand with you and us in boycotting a university that is reinforcing the occupation by opening a branch in an illegal settlement 23 kilometers into the middle of the West Bank? That's the position I ask for. That's all.

Benjamin Gidron: Bar-Ilan University has all kinds of people. Boycotting all of them is, for me is a major affront to academic freedom.

Munther Dajani: One of them is Menachem Klein.

Nadia Nasser-Najjab: If people in Bar-Ilan who are against the occupation would like to work with Palestinians on a different basis, they could work on a personal level.

Yoav Peled: We need to say a few words of summary.

Terry Boullatta: First of all, there are challenges for both Israeli and Palestinian civil societies. Both of them have been weakened.
Secondly, many of the civil society organizations in Israel have benefited from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The people-to-people projects are one example of how Israeli civil society benefited at the account of Palestinian civil society. This needs to be reviewed. We must deal with each other on a basis of equality for the sake of real peace.
My position is still to call upon Israeli and Palestinian civil society to not just work jointly, but to plan jointly for the sake of the peace process.
There are many examples of things that we can plan and work on, such as the issue of the Jerusalem Master Plan 2020, through which the Israelis are diminishing any possibility for a Palestinian capital there. That, of course, undermines the peace process. The separation wall, human-rights violations, there are so many things we can plan jointly and work on together.

Munther Dajani: I want to take up where Terry stopped and interject a word of caution. Since the Israelis have killed our dream for a Palestinian state, there has arisen the logic of killing the Jewish Zionist dream of a Jewish state. There is a new Palestinian civil movement asking to be annexed to Israel and to let the demographic process take its course.
We cannot have a Palestinian state with the wall, with all the latest things the Israelis have been doing on the ground.

Terry Boullatta: You mean a viable Palestinian state.

Rolly Rosen: What is happening now is important. I agree with you that we should think together and collaborate, but we should also see the points where both civil societies have to work within their own constituencies and do very different things.
From what I know about Israeli civil society and peace organizations, at a certain time, it was much easier for them to do people-to-people projects and to meet with Palestinians than to go to Israeli society, convince them about what is happening and try to change their opinion. It is easier to meet with people who, at least on the surface, you think you agree with than to convince people within your own society with whom you very much disagree.
This is our most important challenge. I don't have any clear answers as to how it can be done, but I think this is the important role. There is the role of doing things together and building infrastructure for peace.
A lot of the people-to-people projects were very naive. So we need to do a lot of thinking about people-to-people projects and how we can build an infrastructure for peace which does take into account the context of political occupation and what is happening, and not just to think that, if we meet on a personal basis and do research together, we will live happily ever after.
In addition, each civil society has a big role to play in their own society, some in things that relate to the conflict and some in other things, such as women's issues and social justice and other things that are connected, but are not necessarily related.

Benjamin Gidron: The role of civil society all over the world is increasing, and people and governments can no longer ignore it. We saw this recently in several countries, in Lebanon and in the Ukraine, where civil societies changed regimes and governments because these governments were not acting in a way that most people liked.
This is a new force in the reality of the world at the beginning of the 21st century. We would be wise - we Israelis and Palestinians - to create conditions where civil society will say what most people want, and there is no doubt in anybody's mind I think that most people want what we all think about.
If civil society is wise enough to express these wills - not on a sustained basis because civil society cannot, as a whole system, run on a sustained basis - but even with several large demonstrations, saying peacefully what needs to be done and in which direction to move, I think it would definitely be an important force.
I am an optimist by nature, so I would like to end on this optimistic note.

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